Sunday, February 04, 2007

Honiz soit de sainte Marie / qui por anpirier se marie! (Yvain 2489-90)

Hi, I'm back. I promise more medieval posts this week.

Recently, I had a conversation with several academics about this masculine commercial for an already pretty butch establishment. In typical academic fashion, I'd never seen it, but I'd read about it. Thanks to Youtube, I've now experienced it (where "seeing," dubiously, = "experience") for myself, gentle readers. In it, some man, wearing the untucked shirt that still seems de rigeur these days, pushes away his meager nouvelle cuisine and starts in on a version of the Helen Reddy anthem I am Woman (hear me roar), cleverly redone as "I am Man (hear me roar)." Burger in hand, he leads a ever growing mass of men (or, why not, an ever growing pack of men: "A becoming-animal always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling, in short, a multiplicity....The wolf is not fundamentally a characteristic or a certain number of characteristics; it is a wolfing," Thousand Plateaus, 239; after all, the star of the commercial sings that he's "going on the prowl" immediately before a chorus of unfed fed-up men join him) who push a minivan off a bridge (into some kind of big garbage truck: hell, not being a man, I don't know what to call those things), demonstrate (I was going to write "march," but you see the difference), and burn their underwear. The obvious reference point is the desire for an Iron John style masculinity freed of the alienating, inauthentic burden of (feminine/izing) civilization, a desire in evidence in, I guess, films like Old School, Falling Down, Fight Club (complexly), or Why Does Herr R Run Amok? (okay, bad choice on the last one, but I thought I should have seen at least 2 of the 4 I listed) or in something like the mancation (or here). It might seem like that, but then why the commercial's sneering reference to quiche ("I admit I've been fed quiche / wave tofu bye-bye")?

As one of my fellow symposians wondered, "who eats quiche?" People at wine and cheese events, I suppose, and brunchers; but as my f. s. observed, not the people pictured in the commercial, as they all seem to be men in the Gen-Y demographic. Why should they care about quiche any more than, say, risotto? The question might have been "who rejects quiche?" Men, of course, particularly men who read Real Men Don't Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to all that is Truly Masculine, which came out just about the time I entered puberty. If you're keeping track. Suddenly, it all comes together. The commercial is nostalgic for the 70's, and in particular, nostalgic for the reaction against second-wave feminism that resulted in works like that quiche book, or First Blood (like the quiche book, also 1982) or, uh, Straw Dogs (okay, another bad example, but, again, something I've actually seen/read, a film, if we can say this, that's presciently reactionary). Putting aside the disconcerting racialized moments in the commercial (the Asian guy who karate chops a cinderblock, the Black guy who holds up a burger in a carnivorous version of the Black Power salute: anyone want to engage that?), the chief set piece in it is a ludicrous Black Mass version of 70's feminism: burning V-front underwear instead of bras.

I don't think the commercial's nostalgia is nostalgia for a time prior to 70's feminism. It's not trying to undo 70's feminism by appropriating and enervating its rituals. Okay, it is trying to do that, but I think it's also nostalgia for a reaction that failed. The backlash worked, but not as well as the backlashers would have liked. Sure, we don't yet have an ERA, women are still disproportionately poor and the victims of war, abortions rights are being scaled back, &c. after deplorable &c., but things are nonetheless better for women in America than they were, say, in the 50's. Any man old enough to get the quiche joke can't help but know that, and can't help but know that masculinities founded on abjecting women (both symbolically and legally, not that there's an impermeable wall between these categories) are far less readily established now than they were in some undatable then. With all that in mind, here's a question for which I don't expect an answer: can the collective you think of any other instances of nostalgia for failed reaction?

Explanatory afterward: my title comes from Gawain's temptation of Yvain to leave behind his marriage for a while and take up tourneying again. A colloquial translation: "By holy Mary, shame on anyone who lets himself go by getting married!" Note how anpirier, to become worse, puns on "to pair up." A man should be a self-sustaining creature, content in himself, but, again, note the emergence of men into a pack, as evident in the commercial as it is in Yvain's (disastrous) reassimilation into the mass of juventes.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Karl, what do you make of these facts from the ad:

(1) The unfurling of a sign that reads "Eat This Meat!"

(2) The line in the song "I am starved, I am engorgable!"

They are just talking about hamburgers, right?

And when all those men are singing and frolicing and Vogueing together while rejecting the foods and company of women, there's nothing that isn't "enthusiastically heterosexual" (as we say of the Pardoner)?

I think you're right on with the embrace of 1970s nostalgia (thus the Village People vibe). And I think you're right about its truly creepy, misogynistic vectors. But it seems to me an ad that's also pitched at many levels to several audiences ... serious and ironic at once, depending on the demographic it is hoping to sell some meat to.

Ah, Burger King, thou 21st C Shakespeare.

RaeRae said...

I don't know if I would go as far as to say misogynistic maybe more of a chauvinistic vector. The commercial seems to be rejecting the modern fads of eating "trendy" foods (you know the organic meal that only gives you two bites) It seems to speaking against the current trend of small versus large portins, talking about "eating till my innie becomes an outie"
The commericial seems to play off the stereotype that it is women that perpatrate these trends versus men, that you are all pawns in our grand schemes of world domination. However I have to wonder what would Burger King make of the woman who eats their really big burger? Is she masculine in her behaviors? Or is she kind of feminane reject because she did not order the fascimile of healthy food that the company offers?

Anonymous said...

Karl, there might be some failed reaction nostalgia in certain racial politics. Maybe not 'nostalgia,' but perhaps more confidence in rejecting groups of "others" in order to assert some kind of nationalistic reason of being (I'm thinking of many of the reactions to Mexicans recently, but also Arabs for the last few years). I think such attitudes towards African-Americans are no longer overt, but that certainly doesn't mean that they don't exist. Consider the comedic school of "political incorrectness" in which the comedian is purposefully racist, but only as an "act." (Dave Chapelle said he stopped doing his sketch comedy show because he felt some white Americans were laughing just a little too hard.) Larry the Cable Guy and some of the other "Blue Comedy Tour" acts feed off of this sort of thing. (I haven't seen the "Borat" movie yet, but can anyone who has say if the same sort of thing happens there, too?)

I'm not sure if this is quite what you were thinking about, but it does seem to be related to the whole "Man" movement (witness also those Miller Lite commercials about "Man Laws" and those slightly older Coors Light commercials that featured an anthem of tailgating, football, and promiscuously clad twins). I know such overt assertions of masculinity aren't new, especially when they cover up some perceived lack (JJC mentioned the Pardoner, and isn't this part of what motivates Macbeth, too?).

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that while the commercial is, yes, being "serious and ironic" at once, as JJC said, I think the humor of it is more than just a pitch to more than one audience. It's the whole justification the commercial can get made. "Haha, those men are acting like 1970s feminists...but damn it, they sure are right about the quiche!"

I can understand what Chapelle meant. "Haha," he felt his white audience saying, "that's funny because black people really are thugs!"

I wouldn't call this nostalgia, but I think it's a fairly common trend (a growing one? I don't know for sure) in mainstream comedy.

twoheadedbeast said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
twoheadedbeast said...

In regards to the woman eating the huge burger. The first thing that came to mind was that she was a hermaphrodite, both male and female. She is a woman, particularily a "sexy" woman, eating a burger with the same aggression as a man...BUT at the same time its a male fanasty to watch a woman eat. She is a male to eat a real meal but at the same time make it a sexual act.
The Burger King commerical is, to me, hilarious. As a woman I just sit there and laugh at it. Is it serious? Misogynistic? Yes and like the other commerical it tries to relate to what they see as suppressed male fantasizes, a huge burger that allows you to throw the minivan off the bridge?
These commericals are really not to dissimilar to those butter commericals that have hunky men waiting on women in beautiful locations.

Karl Steel said...

JJ: you're not the only one to think that.

From here:

From what I’ve gleaned from the blogosphere (shudder), this commercial has been around for a couple weeks, but I only saw it last night.

The product: Burger King’s new Texas Double Whopper.

The sell: A burly musical extravaganza hyping the new burger as the ultimate man food. (The accompanying “manthem” is a rewrite of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar),” here altered to—wait for it—“I Am Man (Hear Me Roar).” )

The money shot: Over a testosterone-drunk, Whopper-craving horde, a banner is unfurled from a rooftop: EAT THIS MEAT.

Never has Burger King seemed faggier (which considering that king-n-construction-worker-in-bed ad is saying in lot).

And never has this book seemed more sensible and attractive.

See the full “Manthem” ad here.

RaeRae: it strikes me that the cliche of "nouvelle cuisine" dates from its time of greatest popularity, namely, the late 70s and early 80s.

Tom: what's peculiar to me about the race thing is that it doesn't fit into my schema. The black guy who's holding up the burger is doing this. There's an invocation of the 70s (1968 in this case), but here, it's not in the service of reaction but rather revolution. We can say: okay, appropriate and enervate, but then what? A suggestion: is it precisely because second-wave feminism was so white that the efforts to feature non-white men (apart from their presence in crowd shots) look so clumsy?

In re: gender and meat. Still trying to figure that one out. This post is the beginning of that. But I understand there's a notorious commercial in which one P. Hilton washes a car and eats a burger. So there's an answer.

I'm surprised no one responding to my silly post has talked about the most peculiar part, the Sacher-Masochum Sacher-Masochorum, in which the muscle man, troll-like, pulls, not the gates of Mordor, but that garbage truck thingy, inspired by a Barbarella-style blond who tantalizes him with a burger plattered on a shovel. Pure camp, sure, and probably don't want to lean on it too heavily: but what gives? Should I abandon my effort to come up with a unifying interpretation? Hell yes.

N50 said...

I think they ripped the whole thing off from that other baddie, Nestle's ‘Do not feed the birds’ campaign for their chocolate bars in 2001 and still going strong (ahem)

Frome Nestle:

"In 2001 the Yorkie "It’s Not for Girls" campaign was launched because, in today’s society, there aren’t many things that a man can look at and say that’s for him."

"The 'Not For Girls' campaign theme for Yorkie uses humour, which resonates with today’s British male and simply states that Yorkie is positioning itself as a chocolate bar for men who need a satisfying hunger buster. With five solid chunks of chocolate, it’s a man sized eat!”

There were later versions "it's not for civvies" (army rations), and even a pink "it's not for boys".

Poor men – so hard done by – nothing that’s for them … not even an original ad

Anonymous said...

Yeah, my comment probably comes across as taking the whole enterprise a little too seriously. I know it's just a silly commercial, but I just find advertising an interesting way of looking at a culture's real or imagined desires.

But don't worry Karl, I have faith that your unified field theory of pseudo-homoerotic, slightly misogynistic, very campy fast food commercials will no doubt materialize before long.

Anonymous said...

I believe it's actually "incorrigible" rather than "engorgable," but I have to wonder if there's a deliberate ambiguity!

Check out this interesting meditation, from a designer's perspective, on the homophobic undertones of the ad:

RaeRae said...

so karl I have to ask, if you think all of this about the burger kind commercial what did you make of the superbowl commercial by Combos? The one where the guy comes into his mom's room(who is a man in drag) and is told to eat pizza flavored combos as a cure for a fever followed by the slogan what your mother would feed you if you were a man.

Karl Steel said...

N50: I don't think there's any ripping off going on. They're all just dipping in the same stream, one whose recent outflows include the Manwitch ads of the 70s/80s and whose headwaters might be in a work like the Chanson de Guillaume.

Tom: what I find confounding in the ad is the reference to Black liberation struggles. It's pretty clear the default man in the ad rebels against "chick food," but the Black Power salute? Opposed to what? We can say that it's been emptied of all referential meaning, that it's intended only to evoke, but I find that unsatisfying. That said, I'm also at a dead end on interesting things to say about this commercial.

Anon: had a look at the critique. I don't think it's quite right. This ad isn't 'niche' marketing, at least not in the sense that it's selecting a small slice of some demographic to slag on some other, less powerful demographic. It's appealing, whether in earnest or in a disavowable ironic overdetermined supercharged heterosexual earnest, to masculine culture, which is the dominant culture. The dominant culture can hardly be called "niche," even if the ad packages that culture as a lost thing of the past. We might say the same thing is at work in the recent Snickers ad kerfluffle (see Americablog and Pandagon for this).

RaeRae: no idea! Haven't seen the ad (I learn about ads from blog posts, and there's been no discussion about this one on the blogs I frequently). I'm done with ads for now, and done with meat and masculinity for a bit, too. Julia Twigg and Carol J. Adams are your go-to scholars for this, and no doubt there's something, too, in Colin Spenser's Heretic's Feast and perhaps even in the history of vegetarianism recently reviewed in the New Yorker, Tristram Stuart's The Bloodless Revolution (a review marred because the reviewer, Harvard Science historian Steven Shapin, either did not know or did not ask his research assistant(s) to get to know, Spesner, Adams, Twigg, or any of the classical works on Vegetarianism, whether primary sources (Porphyry's On Abstinence from Eating Meat) or the classic secondary sources, such as Johannes Haussleiter's Der Vegetarismus in der Antike. I don't expect the New Yorker to do good scholarship, but I was still disappointed. Rant over.). In other words, RaeRae, let us know what you think, and if you want to get more deeply into the subject, the above sources are, with various reservations, good places to start (and if you read German, let me know what's in the Haussleiter: I suppose I could just follow his footnotes....)

RaeRae said...

german? are you kidding? i'm still working on latin... participles are evil.

alright so now i've got a spring break reading project outside my homework should be fun...
by the way typing with 1 finger not fun teach me to sprain my wrist